“Special” to “All:” Join the Pride

by Bill Gaventa

This month is Autism Awareness Month. The Heart of Texas Autism Network sponsors a number of wonderful activities in pursuit of recognizing children and adults on the autism spectrum as full members of our communities. Last month was Developmental Disabilities Month and well as national Traumatic Brain Injury Month. March also included an international Down Syndrome Day (March 21).The last week of September is an International Deaf Awareness Week.  October is both national Disability Employment Month, and National Mental Illness month, followed by November as national Alzheimer’s Awareness month, a month started by a proclamation from Ronald Reagan. There are multiple others. One could go on and on.

What’s more, each of those awareness months and days compete with other kinds of awareness campaign that have nothing to do with disabilities.  You name it. There is probably a day for it. I remember a commentary about all of this on NPR a long time ago, with the speaker yearning for the possibilities of a “National Nothing Day,” one that would probably be appreciated by many as long as they did not have to sign declarations about it, lead public relations campaigns, or do the multiple other things that one has to do in order to help one of these days or months become something more than “in name only.”

Of course, all of these groups know that awareness is something they yearn for all year round. There are daily needs that go unseen and unmet, assumptions and stereotypes that go unchallenged, and both people and caregivers who go forgotten and unsupported.

Many also know there is a double edge to special awareness days, weeks, or months.  Calling anything “special” can unwittingly imply that that people are more different than alike, that special skills are needed to be human and hospitable with another, and that specialized programs are more important than friendship and being part of neighborhoods, congregations, clubs, and community activities of all kinds.  Hopefully, one day, “special” becomes unnecessary, because everyone is treated as unique and valued, receivers and givers, citizens and potential friends. Everybody, as Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie

says in a famous TED talk, is more than a single story. In fact, she says it more forcefully: There is danger in being seen as having a single story.

But we are not there yet. People with disabilities, their families and friends, and organizations that support them all need supporters and allies as the work of weaving people into community life goes on, and they are known as people with multiple interests, gifts, and stories.

If you stopped for a moment to ask, “Do any of these groups work together, the answer is “Yes.” Waco is lucky enough to have several organizations that seek to link these individuals, families, organizations and services together. One of them is the Waco Mayor’s Committee for Disabilities.

It’s a mouthful of a name. It sounds formal and official, but truth be told, it is neither. It is one of those organizations that only exists because of the voluntary commitment and work of the people and organizations who choose to be involved.   No one’s paid.  We get by financially with the help of our friends, organizations and businesses who help donate to, and sponsor, two major events each year for people with disabilities, their families and friends: The Starry Night Holiday Celebration during the Christmas season, and Join the Pride, the upcoming free day at Cameron Park Zoo (April 22) that also serves as an information and resource fair for people with disabilities, their families, and friends.

What else do we do?  We have been thinking about that, and have a vision of serving as a collaborative, active network that can (1) respond as a team to people and families searching for services and supports, (2) share information with one another on new and exciting ideas and supports, and (3) work together across disability labels and organizations to support one another and to meet needs we cannot by ourselves.

Many cities established Mayor’s Committees several decades ago. Many of those have withered on the vine. Some key people in McLennan County, including Darlene Nobles of Signs of the Times, Anita Karney of the Heart of Texas Autism Network, and Kelly Yarbrough, formerly of DARS but now of the Texas Workforce Coalition, have helped keep the Waco Committee alive. Now there are new voices wanting to strengthen current projects and do things together that we cannot do separately. The key phrase these days in human services, as in other arenas, is taken straight from the farm:  Get out of our silos and talk to one another.

Anyone’s welcome to join in as a member (no dues), participant, advocate, and worker. If you come with curiosity, we can hopefully answer questions. You don’t need to fill out forms. If you come with ideas and dreams, be prepared to work on them.  We may not yet have all the supports and services people need, but through this Committee and network, you’ll have allies, people willing to listen, and others willing to celebrate the wide diversity of ways that people and groups in Waco are working to give everyone the chance to participate in the community as they wish. As Waco begins to grow and thrive, let’s help the lives of those with one form of disability or another flourish as well, and become known more for their grit, gifts, and desire to contribute to this community as well.

How to get started? Email [email protected], and Like the Waco Mayor’s Committee for Disabilities on Facebook. Put out a question there. And share information. Find out about next meetings. (usually once a month) Come to Join the Pride on Sunday, April 22, and meet a bunch of the people involved.  Join the Pride started because the lion’s pride at Cameron Park Zoo once had a lion who was shunned by the others because of a disability. So the founders wanted to be part of her pride, at least symbolically. Now, we have a zoo that is known for its skills in rehabilitation of animals, and multiple support organizations seeking to help individuals and families feel pride in their own lives and community.  We need dreamers and workers. Everyone has gifts. It is our job together to find ways to use them.

Here’s the information about Join the Pride… be sure to register online so we have an idea who is coming.  To request free tickets for families with special needs children, adults with disabilities, or veterans with disabilities and a guest, visit: http://www.tinyurl.com/2018JTPZooTickets or email [email protected]

To sponsor a family or for a free booth register at: http://www.tinyurl.com/2018JTPBoothSponsor.

Bill Gaventa is the Current Co-Chair, Waco Mayor’s Committee for Disabilities.  He is an  ordained Baptist minister currently serving as the Director of the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability and the national Collaborative on Faith and Disability. Bill’s pastoral career has been in a variety of roles at the intersections of faith and disability, including community supports with people with disabilities, training for clergy, seminarians and community services staff, aging and end of life/grief issues in intellectual and developmental disabilities, cultural competence, and community building. He served as the President of American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for 2016-2017.  He and his wife Beverly moved to Waco in 2013 where she serves as Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Baylor University.  In Waco, Bill serves on the Mayor’s Committee on Disabilities, the Board of the Arc of McLennan County, and the Professional Network Advisory Committee of the Heart of Texas Region MH/MR Center. You can email Bill at [email protected].

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.


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